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PC: Strange inscriptions on Park Avenue ROW, New York City

[Posted with the permission of the moderator]

On Park Avenue at between 86th and 90th Streets  (NYC) there are iron grates -- perhaps 15' x 15' --venting the railroad tunnel underneath. The openings date from the 1870's, but have been altered, perhaps several times. The coping stones (about 13" wide, 3" thick, and 1' to 3' long) that surround the iron grates at the edge bear peculiar  incised inscriptions, irregularly carved, obviously done free-hand, regularly but not mechanically placed on the stones. The inscriptions are from several hands, but have some uniformity - like the repetition of "No" as in a numbering system.  

The coping stones (which look 19th century) may have been reused from earlier railroad projects - the tracks were covered in the 1870's, but were open to the sky from 1834 to that time. We have sharp period views of the railroad cut, and such stones do not appear in them. But it occurred to me that the flags might have been salvaged from some rail operation or other, and that these inscriptions might be related to the original rail operations or waypoints. But the maintenance of way people at Metro-North (our local rail line) say they don't recognize any rhyme or reason to them. (All the other grates have been rebuilt, and the ones from 86th to 90th are the last surviving ones.)

Only a few of the inscriptions have the character of graffitti - most seem to be part of some numbering of inventory scheme that is now lost.  If you have any ideas for what that scheme might have been, I would be grateful for return correspondance.

Christopher Gray "Streetscapes" Columnist
Sunday Real Estate Section
The New York Times
office: 246 West 80th Street New York City 10024
voice: 212-799-0520 fax: 212-799-0542
e: MetHistory -AT- aol.com

Roster, Park Avenue flagstone inscriptions, 86th-90th Street, made October 14, 2001

The text of the inscription itself is given at right; an assigned position for the stone is given at left, e.g., "S1" = the first stone on the south side of the opening; "E2" = the second stone on the east side of the opening).

North Side 86th Street (21 stones in all)
no inscriptions

South Side 87th Street (12 stones in all)
W4 SJ?
S2 TO?
E1 E09T [9 is rendered backwards]
E3 A1 O DD
E4 T+O I No 6 [N is rendered backwards)

North Side 87th Street (13 stones in all)
N1 JB?

South Side 88th Street (16 stones in all)
W1 H N 8
W2 JR    B11
W4 H 11
W5 H14 and PC
N4 DP or DD
N3 11
C4 K6

North Side 88th Street ( 29 stones in all)
N3 F N11

South Side 89th Street (24 stones in all)
no inscriptions

North Side 89th Street (16 stones in all)
E1 C. No. 11 HV
N2 ?
W3 Hno21 HWS
S1 No 11
S5 PINKT 7 [N is rendered backwards]

South Side 90th Street (15 stones in all)
S1 C No
W5 SF?
N5 Hno8

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